Results for “food”
1835 found

Banerjee and Duflo on poverty and food

It is an excellent piece, excerpt:

The poor often resist the wonderful plans we think up for them because they do not share our faith that those plans work, or work as well as we claim. We shouldn’t forget, too, that other things may be more important in their lives than food. Poor people in the developing world spend large amounts on weddings, dowries, and christenings. Part of the reason is probably that they don’t want to lose face, when the social custom is to spend a lot on those occasions. In South Africa, poor families often spend so lavishly on funerals that they skimp on food for months afterward.

And don’t underestimate the power of factors like boredom. Life can be quite dull in a village…

We often see the world of the poor as a land of missed opportunities and wonder why they don’t invest in what would really make their lives better. But the poor may well be more skeptical about supposed opportunities and the possibility of any radical change in their lives. They often behave as if they think that any change that is significant enough to be worth sacrificing for will simply take too long. This could explain why they focus on the here and now, on living their lives as pleasantly as possible and celebrating when occasion demands it.

Hat tip goes to half of the people I follow on Twitter.

Food Safety and Culture

Scientific American has an excerpt from Myhrvold, Young and Bilet’s magnum opus, Modernist Cuisine, in which they discusses the often arbitrary, subjective and culturally bound nature of “food safety” rules and practices.

In decades past, pork was intrinsically less safe than other meats because of muscle infiltration by Trichinella and surface contamination from fecal-borne pathogens like Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens . As a result, people learned to tolerate overcooked pork, and farms raised pigs with increasing amounts of fat—far more fat than is typical in the wild ancestors of pigs such as wild boar. The extra fat helped to keep the meat moist when it was overcooked.

Since then… producers have vastly reduced the risk of contamination through preventive practices on the farm and in meat-processing facilities. Eventually the FDA relaxed the cooking requirements for pork; they are now no different than those for other meats. The irony is that few people noticed—­culinary professionals and cookbook authors included….

After decades of consuming overcooked pork by necessity, the American public has little appetite for rare pork; it isn’t considered traditional. With a lack of cultural pressure or agitation for change by industry groups, the new standards are largely ignored, and many new publications leave the old cooking recommendations intact.

Clearly, cultural and political factors impinge on decisions about food safety. If you doubt that, note the contrast between the standards applied to pork and those applied to beef. Many people love rare steak or raw beef served as carpaccio or steak tartare, and in the United States alone, millions of people safely eat beef products, whether raw, rare, or well-done. Beef is part of the national culture, and any attempt to outlaw rare or raw steak in the United States would face an immense cultural and political backlash from both the consumers and the producers of beef.

…Cultural and political factors also explain why cheese made from raw milk is considered safe in France yet viewed with great skepticism in the United States. Traditional cheese-making techniques, used correctly and with proper quality controls, eliminate pathogens without the need for milk pasteurization. Millions of people safely consume raw milk cheese in France, and any call to ban such a fundamental part of French culture would meet with enormous resistance there….

Raw milk cheese aged less than 60 days cannot be imported into the United States and cannot legally cross U.S. state lines. Yet in 24 of the 50 states, it is perfectly legal to make, sell, and consume raw milk cheeses within the state. In most of Canada raw milk cheese is banned, but in the province of Quebec it is legal.

One point they don’t note is that there may be multiple equilibria–that is, it may be more dangerous to produce raw milk cheese in a country or region without a history of producing raw milk cheese than elsewhere. Still, this is no reason we shouldn’t be eating more horse.

Comali foods: tamales and pupusas from El Salvador

They sent me, gratis, non-frozen tamales from El Salvador.  They sell pupusas too, and with improved technologies:

The retort process uses a combination of heat and pressure to “sterilize” the foods, which are sealed in special pouches similar to military MRE’s (but ours taste a lot better 🙂 ). 

They were excellent (I knew immediately when I smelled them) and no artificial preservatives are required.  They will deliver to your door and their web site is here.  I am told there is a 30 percent off discount with use of the code TCowen30; I receive no kickback.

Don't forget the white sour cream.

Why is hospital food so nutritionally bad?

Mario Rizzo asks me:

Why is hospital cafeteria food so poor from a nutritional point of view? Fried chicken, preservative-filled cold cuts, cheese everywhere, etc. Keep in mind I am not talking about the food served patients who may have appetite problems. It is food they serve everyone else including doctors and nurses, many of whom know better.

You'll find some proximate answers here, referring to the institutional arrangements for supplying the food.  Here is a UK discussion.  Here are some signs of progress.  I would make a few more fundamental points:

1. Few people choose a hospital on the basis of the food or on the basis of the food their visitors can enjoy.  Furthermore the median American has bad taste in food and the elderly are less likely to enjoy ethnic food or trendy food.  You can't serve sushi.  They are likely to use the same food service contract for the patients and the visitors.

2. For the patients, some of the food is designed for the rapid injection of protein and carbohydrates.  For a terminally ill patient who is losing weight and wasting away, this may have some benefits.  Since healthier people tend to have very brief hospital stays, they can undo the effects of the fried chicken once they get out.  Many of the sicker patients in for longer stays have trouble tasting food properly at all.

3. Taxing hospital visitors is one way of capturing back some of the rents reaped by patients on third-party payment schemes.

4. I would be interested to know more about the insurance reimbursement rates for hospital food, but at the very least I suspect there is no higher reimbursement allowed for higher quality.  Combine third party payment with a flat price for rising quality and see what you get.  Furthermore, low quality food is another way the hospital raises its prices to inelastic demanders, again circumventing relatively sticky reimbursement rates from the third party financiers.  It's one sign that the net pressures are still in inflationary directions.

5. You can take the quality of the food as one indicator of the quality of other, harder-to-evaluate processes in the hospital.

Strategic food attack at functions

Here is more on the optimal use of buffets, especially for Indian food:

At Sharadha’s wedding too I had managed to spot and exploit arbitrage opportunities. For example, I realized that people never stood in queues to get second helpings, and that I could peacefully get around the line by taking the plate from the hardly-crowded salad counter and then going to the main line looking like I was going for second helpings.

…And if you find yourself at a buffet which has lots of financial traders, I really pity you.

The previous link on the topic was here.  For the pointer I thank Karthik Shashidar.

GMU needs food truck deregulation

Maksim Tsvetovat writes to me:

I'm a fellow professor at Mason Fairfax Campus. As I was reading about Sodexo monopolist hold on food service at Mason and their despicable labor practices and working conditions, I started wondering if there was a way to deal with this WHILE improving food options on campus. The answer is actually pretty simple — FOOD TRUCKS! I can almost taste the fresh tacos and arepas, or bahn mi, or udon noodles or… you name it.

This worked very well on the campus of my alma mater (Carnegie Mellon Unviersity) where food trucks coexist peacefully with Aramark but forced Aramark to improve quality of food, lower prices and improve labor practices (they were not happy about it and sued but lost in court — there's good precedent)

I'm talking to owner of one tasty taco truck to see if he'll come and park near Enterprise Hall at lunchtime — just as a trial balloon, to see how Mason reacts. I'm wondering if you (as a well-known local authority on ethnic food as well as a fellow professor) might be able to lend your voice to this and rally some support behind it. Even a simple blog posting would be a huge help!

Here is Matt Yglesias on DC food cart deregulation.  Here is a good piece on black and grey market food on the other side of the Anacostia River.  Here is the latest on food trucks in DC.

Elephant Jumps, Thai food in Merrifield

8110 A Arlington Blvd, Falls Church, 22042, (703) 942-6600, in the Yorktowne Center, more on Gallows than Route 50, home page here.

Home-style Thai food, with four levels of spicy, culminating in “Thai spicy.”  It’s not as good as Thai X-ing, but it’s probably better than any other local Thai competitor.  They will watch you sweat and they will giggle.


Here is one good review of the restaurant.  Here is a short bit on how elephants were viewed in antiquity.  Here is my favorite book on elephants


After we exchanged impressions of the other local Thai restaurants, the proprietor said to me: “You know a lot about food and you get around — you should be a food critic.  You could write up what you think about all these places!”


If we’re not going to have much more economic growth, we can at least have a few locales like this.  

Food in Istanbul

My favorite sight has been the mother-daughter pair I saw on the Bosporous ferry.  They were hugging each other on the bench and had virtually the same profile features, yet the mother carried full traditional dress and the daughter wore a mini-skirt and was otherwise dressed comparably.  They loved each other dearly.

How you interpret these women is central to how you view Istanbul.  One intuition is that they are quite alike, another is that they are quite different.

And the food?  You can eat the traditional dishes, in simpler settings, or you can pay extra to eat them — slightly modified — in more gussied up surroundings.  The key to eating well here is to go simple and to look for the best and purest versions of straightforward dishes.  World class raw ingredients are at your disposal, if only you don't let anyone ruin them.

It's not hard to find the good stuff.  Thousands of street restaurants offer seafood (the fried small smelts are my favorite, then the sea bream or "levrek"), eggplants, fava beans, doner kebab, fried mussels, salads with cheese and tomatoes, lamb brains, fried and baked potatoes, Turkish ravioli (harder to find), spicy kabob with sumac, and other delicacies.  It is common for the small restaurants to specialize, an indication of quality.  A meal in these places, with one small portion, will cost six to ten dollars but you can (and should) order more.  Turkish sweets are the dessert and I prefer something with pistachio.

The rest is a sideshow.  Avoid all restaurants near the main sights or near clusters of tourist hotels.  Avoid most of the places — even Turkish ones — on the main thoroughfares.  Look for the neighborhood side streets with clusters of these small restaurants, just off the larger roads.  If you order small dishes, you can visit two or three restaurants in one meal, no problem.

My favorite small Istanbul restaurants have been the soup houses, especially the tripe soup (NB: you don't have to like most tripe dishes to enjoy these creations).  You ladle in some liquid garlic sauce, paprika, a bit of chili pepper, and a green herb of some kind.  Some of these places are open for breakfast.

Unless you've bled this city dry and sampled all the major dishes (which would take a long time), the return to going upscale, or seeking innovation, is not overwhelming.  What happens is that you're either paying higher prices to be in the company of attractive Turkish women or to impress attractive Turkish women who are already in your company.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but the basic market model here is segregation of restaurant type.  If it's food you're after, don't pay more for the culinary twists.  The food will remain recognizably Mediterranean but it won't be the classic treatment you are looking for and which to you is still original on the fifth day of your trip.

If your restaurant has a good number of attractive Turkish women in it, perhaps you made a food mistake.  Or should I say a money mistake?  Or what kind of mistake?  The cuisine still will be good.

The good here is very good and the best isn't that much better. 

The new food pessimism

This LRB article by Jeremy Harding articulates an increasing fear that food markets will not operate smoothly over the next decade or two.  He gives some major reasons (only partially reproduced here) to be pessimistic:

The first is the nature and extent of population growth: we are six billion now and by 2030 we’ll be eight billion…

The second is ‘the nutrition transition’: generations that once lived on grains, pulses and legumes have been replaced by more prosperous people with a taste for meat and dairy. Crops like maize which once fed many of us directly now feed fewer of us indirectly, via a costly diversion from which they emerge in the value-added form of meat. Global production of food – all food – will have to increase by 50 per cent over the next 20 years to cater for two billion extra people and cope with the rising demand for meat.

The third factor is energy: the industrial production of food is sure to become more expensive as fuel costs rise. It takes 160 litres of oil to produce a tonne of maize in the US; natural gas accounts for at least three-quarters of the cost of making nitrogen fertiliser; freight, too, depends on fuel.

Land is the fourth. The amount of the world’s land given over to agriculture continues to grow (in the UK, roughly 70 per cent of land is agricultural), but in per capita terms it’s shrinking. As with oil, it’s possible to envisage ‘peak food’ (the point of maximum production, followed by decline), ‘peak phosphorus’, i.e. the high point in the use of phosphate fertiliser (one estimate puts it at 2035), and, as the FAO suggests in its diplomatic way, ‘peak land’: the point at which the total area of the world’s most productive land begins to diminish (soil exhaustion, climate change) and marginal land comes up for reassessment.

[Fifth] Alternative fuels are reducing the amount of land available for growing food.

The Julian Simon-savvy crowd that reads MR might not be so impressed, but I wouldn't write off these worries so quickly.  On the list, #1 and #2 do not impress me per se, but they do require that market mechanisms of adjustment be allowed to operate.  Note that agriculture and land markets are highly regulated around the world and that you don't have to read this as a story of market failure.  As for #3, most energy is mispriced today.  Keeping it cheap means growing pressure on that externality, while taxing it means a solid whack to a lot of food markets.  #5 stems from bad government policies.  Another problem, mentioned later by Harding, is that very often water for agriculture is subsidized and unsustainably so.  Keeping water cheap means growing pressure on that externality, while removing the subsidies (which I favor) means a solid whack to a lot of food markets, at least in the short run.  The world as a whole is consuming its capital of aquifers and the like and engaging in short-term thinking by refusing to let the price of water rise as it ought to.  Internalizing all the relevant externalities, and increasing sustainable long-run production, would in fact mean big "tax" hikes on growing food today.

There is also a critical scale at which fertilizer run-off and erosion externalities start to matter at a level beyond which we are accustomed to seeing.

I believe these factors mean a stronger case for agricultural free trade, rather than "localism," yet at the same time removing the subsidies for sprawl.  Yet so far the people worried most about these issues are often the ones with the least economically informed answers.  It would be a mistake to, say, mock Paul Ehrlich's earlier doom-saying predictions and ignore these problems altogether.

The economics of dog food

How does the environmental impact of a dog compare to that of an SUV?  Via Robert Nagle in the MR comments section, here is one article defending the dog. It makes many good points but right now I am especially interested in this passage:

…most dogs DO NOT eat meat and cereals.  With a few exceptions, they eat “meat” and “cereals.”  The “meat,” in particular, tends to be byproducts–things that people in the US simply won’t eat, even in hot dogs.

Does that mean that the cow parts are a "free lunch," environmentally speaking?  Let's say you have a dogless world and the cow organs are thrown away.  Dogs come along and suddenly those organs are sold to dog food companies.  The profit margin on cows increases.  The supply of cows goes up, as more resources are put into raising cows, and that means more cow emissions.  This process continues until the (private) costs of cow production rise, and/or the prices of cow products fall.  In other words, it depends on elasticities but the dog diets do have an environmental impact.

Here is a simple piece on the economics of joint supply.

Why don’t more people like spicy food?

Andrew, a loyal MR reader, has a request:

Tyler, why don't more people like spicy food? What prevents them from trying spicy dishes?

Mexicans acculturate their small children to spicy food gradually, by mixing increasing amounts of chilies into the meal.  It takes a while before the kids enjoy it and at first they don't like it.  If this has never been done to you, you need to make the leap yourself, usually later in life.  The whole point of spicy food is that at first it is painful, causing the release of endorphins to the brain.  With time the pain goes away and you still get the endorphins, although you may seek out an increasingly strong dose to boost the endorphin response.

Not all Americans think this is a good deal.  Older people are less likely to make this initial investment and endure the initial pain.  The same is true for uneducated people (adjusting for ethnicity), who both are less likely to know it will end up being a source of pleasure and who on average have higher discount rates.  What other predictions can be made?  If you and your country are too obsessed with dairy you will be led away from spicy food, one way or the other.  Milk usually counteracts the pleasing effects of chilies.

How to think about Iranian food

Sadly, I've never been to Iran, though I would love to go.  Here are a few tips for the Iranian food I've had elsewhere:

1. A good koresh (stew) almost always beats a good kabob.  Ghormeh sabzi and bademjan are national treasures.

2. The choice of rice is a central decision.  Get zereshk polo — barberry rice — as much as you can.  Or get cherry rice, rice with pistachio, etc.  All those choices are winners.

3. Lamb shank can end up being dull in a Persian restaurant.  If served with dill the dish is often too dry.

4. Fesanjan, fesanjan, fesanjan.  In Iceland I once ate fesenjan guillemot.  The fesenjan in a can that you find in Persian groceries is actually pretty good.

5. Don't be afraid to smear mast-o-moseer (or musir; the spellings and transliterations vary, as with many of these dishes) into your rice.  Always order mast-o-moseer.

6. Soups are excellent, especially if they are fragrant and have noodle-like entities.  Soups without barley are usually better than soups with barley.

7. In this country Westwood, Los Angeles has the best Iranian food overall.  Check out Westwood Ave. and also Pico.

8. If you are in a country where you do not expect to see Persian food, and you see Persian food, it is usually very good.  As a partial exception to a rule of good eating, a single Persian restaurant can be very good even if there are not other Persian restaurants around.

Can people distinguish pâté from dog food?

The forward march of science continues:

Considering the similarity of its ingredients, canned dog food could be a suitable and inexpensive substitute for pâté or processed blended meat products such as Spam or liverwurst. However, the social stigma associated with the human consumption of pet food makes an unbiased comparison challenging. To prevent bias, Newman's Own dog food was prepared with a food processor to have the texture and appearance of a liver mousse. In a double-blind test, subjects were presented with five unlabeled blended meat products, one of which was the prepared dog food. After ranking the samples on the basis of taste, subjects were challenged to identify which of the five was dog food. Although 72% of subjects ranked the dog food as the worst of the five samples in terms of taste (Newell and MacFarlane multiple comparison, P<0.05), subjects were not better than random at correctly identifying the dog food.

The title of the paper is, appropriately: Can
People Distinguish Pâté from Dog Food?